New credit union project viewed as redevelopment success story

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Rockingham Planning Commission will meet Thursday evening in the parking lot of a long-closed gas station and talk about redeveloping vacant lots in Bellows Falls and the rest of Rockingham.

Chuck Wise, the town's zoning administrator, said Monday he will bring lanterns and bug spray in order to entice the planners and the public to the unusual outdoor meeting at what likely will be the new home of River Valley Credit Union.

Wise said Monday the credit union has not yet received its permit to tear down the old Sunoco gas station and build a new bank, with a drive-up window, at the corner of Routes 5 and 121, locally known as Red Light Hill.

If the River Valley Credit Union project goes forward, it will be a great success story, Wise said. "It's something to celebrate.. There are other sites we want to see redeveloped," he said.

Consultant Adam Hubbard of Brattleboro, who did all the site planning for the River Valley project, will talk about the redevelopment process for planners. He outlined it for the development review board two weeks ago.

He said during a meeting earlier this month before the Rockingham Development Review Board, there were only minor issues raised about the new bank, centered mostly on traffic and parking at the new site. He said the review board was considering a draft decision, which Wise said would take a couple of weeks before a final decision. He said there were "no complications" in the application.

But he said the planning commission would be having a second, companion discussion about the project and the issue of redeveloping old sites within the village areas in the town.

He said the credit union had been turned down earlier this year for a different location, that was right on the edge of a residential neighborhood that fronted on busy Rockingham Street, and across Green Street from the Dari-Joy, the popular restaurant.

Jeff Morse, chief executive officer of River Valley Credit Union, said the Westminster Street location would give the bank additional space and higher visibility. Its current location is on Hospital Court, near the former Rockingham Memorial Hospital, but is "a small, tiny branch."

"It's not the best situation in the world," he said, referring to the current location.

"We've been looking for a long, long time," he said, adding that once the credit union has all its permits in hand, it will close on the former gas station, which is owned by Sandi Realty Inc.

Wise said the Rockingham Planning Commission was in the process of rewriting the town plan, and he was scheduling meetings outside of the normal town office to emphasize a town-wide approach. He said the planning commission met at the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham last month and would be meeting at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River next month. Having the meetings in different locations in town will help make the planning process and the plan itself "more accessible," he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or

802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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